Video mapping, turning architecture into theatre

Designed to enhance through the use of light and colour, architectural illumination now has a new frontier in the form of video mapping which is used to project images onto the façades of buildings to create spectacular 3D visual effects

Published on 27 April 2020

Video mapping, turning architecture into theatre

Historic buildings, churches, squares and monuments are all magical as night falls, particularly if they have been expertly lit.  

Architectural illumination  uses light and colour to enhance the beauty of our buildings, artistic heritage and architectural spaces. It does so by creating a sense of harmony between the object being illuminated and its setting, enhancing the form and beauty of both. Architectural illumination also attracts attention, capturing the gaze of the spectator and dazzling with lighting effects, particularly in the case of temporary illuminations for events.  Video mapping is the new frontier of this art as it allows images to be projected onto buildings to produce spectacular 3D visual effects.

Video projection mapping is an evolved projection technique that can turn any surface into a dynamic display. Animations, images, video footage and lighting effects are projected onto the surfaces of architecture, interacting with it to create a stunning visual impact. Thanks to video mapping, animated projections can trick the spectator’s visual perceptions to the point where they can no longer distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t.  They are drawn into a completely immersive experience  that turns the projected image into a kind of illusion. Video mapping, in essence, creates video shows that can even simulate the visual effect of a snowfall or take spectators on a virtual journey right inside a historic building starting from the façade. It can turn the surfaces of churches, palazzos, bridges, squares, fountains and statues into canvases on which video artists can unleash their creativity in compositions that meld moving images, animation, special effects and 3D graphics into a single language. 

Video mapping is the ideal vehicle for messages of all kinds because there is no limit to the content that can be projected. This means that aside from pure entertainment, it can also be used to communicate specific messages relating to diverse themes.  When meticulously and professionally designed and executed, video mapping can be astonishingly spectacular and thus capture spectators’ attention better than any other kind of architectural illumination, holding it throughout the entire performance.  This is why it is ideal too for events that require temporary illuminations such as festivals, themed initiatives, inaugurations, vernissages, and product launches. All occasions for which light and music can be utilised to entertain and bring people together.

But how is video mapping created and how does it work exactly? Firstly, the lighting designer has to create a 3D model of the surfaces of the architectural backdrop being used. To make the very most of the potential of this projection technology, the mapping must be absolutely faithful to the original down to the last detail. At this stage, the positioning of the projectors and lenses is absolutely essential to ensure the final spectacle is defined with complete precision. Once the 3D model has been created, a library of animations and special effects  is accessed in order to develop a solution to suit the client’s requirements, the message, and the content that needs to be communicated.  Special software that allows these 2 and 3D elements to be transformed, disassembled, rotated and inserted is used to create a video that combines images, special effects and optical illusions to deliver the desired result. Partnered with an audio system, the video is then projected onto the surfaces of the architectural object in question using high performance video projectors located in strategic positions to beam onto the façade.

The result is an amazing show. Thanks to its technological precision, projection mapping enhances the details of the forms and lines of the architectural façade being illuminated, turning it into a theatrical backdrop on which incredibly convincing experiences can be created using the virtual powers of light, altering our perception of the spaces and surprising us with special effects. In other words, used with architectural illumination, video mapping not only casts a city in its best light but also helps give it a whole new face. It does so by transforming urban spaces and injecting new life into underused areas, bringing renewed impetus to cultural development and tourism, and new energy to the city ecosystem as a whole.

A representative image - St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney